Disturbing Behavior

Hats off to Wes Craven for warning us. His Wes Craven's New Nightmare served as a cheeky throwing in of the towel for the gifted schlockmeister, a good-natured admission that he had done all he could do in the horror department without cracking a giggle. The mine was all played out -- kill the canary.

Sure enough, along came Kevin Williamson and his Screams. For every three chills, there's a wink. And the nubile little things that Craven and John Carpenter had their madmen slice and dice now get their attitude from Alannis and keep a movie guide in their fanny packs.

In short, irony rules. This little ditty from David Nutter, seasoned director of "X-Files" episodes (no doubt why the thing was shot in British Columbia) certainly knows it and proceeds accordingly. Pretty boy Steve (James Marsden) and his family have moved from Chicago to Cradle Bay, a West Coast fishing village, after his brother committed suicide in an identity crisis. On his first day of school, Steve is taken under the wing of dedicated stoner Gavin (Nick Stahl), who provides cheeky commentary on the various cliques. The one to give a wide berth to is the Blue Ribbons, a gang of do-gooder bookworms who hang out at a yogurt shop aping '50s teenager clichés. As he's new in town, Steve is sent to the principal's office for a friendly briefing. There he meets Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood), an oily and messianic school counselor who, as it turns out, has turned his mind control experiments on the kiddies to create his own private army of "perfect" teens. You guessed it ... the Blue Ribbons!

Although Gavin eventually succumbs to the good doctor's "better living through Beaver Cleaver" hocus-pocus, Steve teams up with raven-haired vixen Rachel (Katie Holmes), she of strong bra and strong angst, to stop the madness. Along the way, they enlist the school janitor, a mangy creep who is not who he seems.

If the plot stretches plausibility and the acting is suitably dreadful, the concept is nonetheless soundly entertaining: Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets High School Confidential. Millions of parents secretly would just love a Dr. Caldicott to walk into their kiddies' school and set up his lab. With school shootings, drunk driving, drug dealing, torn panties and bassinets looming on the horizon, getting a child through the teen years is akin to getting a sinking ship into harbor during a firestorm. The target market for Disturbing Behavior should eat it up, seeing their own fears about their futures pitted against their parents' versions, and coming out on top.

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